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Tom McDonald

Dr Tom McDonald

Assistant Professor

+852 3917 1105

9.14, 9/F., The Jockey Club Tower, Centennial Campus


I am a media anthropologist dedicated to using ethnographic engagement to achieve a richer understanding of how digital technologies, media and material culture come to mediate ongoing transformations in the communicative practices, economic behaviours, social relationships and human subjectivities of people in China and beyond. I joined the HKU Department of Sociology in August 2015. Prior to this I was a Research Associate at the Department of Anthropology, University College London.

My first solely-authored monograph, Social Media in Rural China: Social Networks and Moral Frameworks (2016, UCL Press), details the findings of 15-months of ethnographic fieldwork in the Chinese countryside, examining how social media use reconfigures social relations and morality. A separate co-authored volume, How the World Changed Social Media (2016, UCL Press) expands on the wider findings of the larger comparative UCL Why We Post study, to which my ethnography formed a central contribution.

My research increasingly focuses on economic concerns, reflecting the rapid convergence between digital money and media in China. My current project examines the adoption of digital money platforms amongst migrant factory workers in China and documents the effects such platforms on a range of everyday exchange practices and infrastructures, with a particular focus on consumption, savings, investment, and remittances.

Courses taught


PhD Anthropology
University College London

MRes Anthropology
University College London

BSc Anthropology
University College London

Research interests

Digital money
Social media

Current research

Digital money and migration in China: Contemporary monetary practices and imagined economic futures (Principal Investigator, Hong Kong Research Grants Council Early Career Scheme Award)

The impact of social media: Resources for teaching sociology in secondary schools (HKU Knowledge Exchange project)

Learning and assessment for digital citizenship (Co-Investigator, Hong Kong Research Grants Council Collaborative Research Fund)

Honours and recognitions


HKU Early Career Teaching Award (2018)

HKU Faculty of Social Sciences, Outstanding Teaching Award (2017-18)

Learned societies:

Fellow, Royal Anthropological Institute

Member, European Association of Social Anthropologists

Selected publications

Journal articles:

McDonald, T. (2019). ‘Social’ money and working-class subjectivities: Digital money and migrant labour in Shenzhen, China. The China Quarterly. [Open Access version]

McDonald, T. (2019). Strangership and social media: Moral imaginaries of gendered strangers in rural ChinaAmerican Anthropologist. 121 (1), 76-88.  [Open Access version]

with Miller, D., et al. (2019). Contemporary comparative anthropology – The Why We Post project. Ethnos. 84 (2), 283-300. [Open Access version]

McDonald, T. (2016). Senses, sociality and salons: Medicinal hospitality in a Chinese hair-dresser’s salon. Ethnos, 81 (2), 189-213. [Open Access version]

with Chan, J.H., et al. (2016). The role of self-gentrification in sustainable tourism: Indigenous entrepreneurship at Honghe Hani Rice Terraces World Heritage Site, ChinaJournal of Sustainable Tourism. 24 (8-9), 1262-1279.

McDonald, T. (2015). Affecting relations: domesticating the internet in a south-western Chinese town. Information, Communication & Society, 18 (1), 17-31. [Open Access version]

McDonald, T. (2011). “Cowboy Cloth” and kinship: The closeness of denim consumption in a south-west Chinese city. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, 9 (1), 76-89. [Open Access version]


McDonald, T. (2016). Social Media in Rural China: Social Networks and Moral Frameworks. London: UCL Press.

Miller, D., et al. (2016). How the World Changed Social Media. London: UCL Press.

Book chapters:

McDonald, T., et al. (2018). ‘Negotiating the ethics of gendered online spaces in Mainland China and Hong Kong’. In Iphofen, R and M. Tolich (eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research Ethics. London: Sage. 526-539.

McDonald, T. & Sinanan, J. (2017). ‘Ethnography’. In Burgess, J., A. Marwick and T. Poell (eds), The Sage Handbook of Social Media, London: Sage. 179-195.

McDonald, T., Nicolescu, R., & Sinanan, J. (2017). ‘Small places turned inside out: social networking in small communities’. In Hjorth, L., H. Horst, A. Galloway and G. Bell (eds), The Routledge Companion to Digital Ethnography, London: Routledge. 89-101.

McDonald, T. (2015). ‘Desiring mobiles, desiring education: mobile phones and families in a rural Chinese Town‘. In S. S. Lim (Ed.), Mobile Communication and the Family: Asian Experiences in Technology Domestication. Dordrecht: Springer. 13-32. [Open Access version]

See all publications in HKU Scholars Hub →